Thousands view fireworks in Lewisville, some singed as winds scatter debris

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Eagles tribute band Desperado performs at Red, White and Sounds of Lewisville 2018. (Photo by Leopold Knopp)

Thousands of people from Lewisville and the surrounding area crammed themselves into Wayne Ferguson Plaza for the special Red, White and Sounds of Lewisville concert, which combined an Independence Day celebration with the weekly concert. The fireworks display got a little hairy when unexpected heavy winds swept over the plaza.

The show was delayed to allow the winds to die down and then had to be paused when they started back up again. Some viewers north of the MCL Grand were showered with debris and felt the heat from the display and at least two were injured, though Fire Department Capt. Delane Graham said none were injured seriously enough to be sent to the hospital.

The idea behind this event came from last year, when July 4 fell on a Tuesday so Lewisville’s Independence Day celebration naturally coincided with its summer-long Sounds of Lewisville Tuesday concert series. That event saw 5,000 people packed into Wayne Ferguson Plaza, which constituted almost half the attendance of the entire nine-concert series. Given that success, the city decided to make the events coincide again and celebrate Independence Day a day early this year.

Community relations and tourism director James Kunke said 5,000 was a decent estimate for this year’s attendance as well. He said they stopped counting at 3,600 shortly after headliner Desperado started playing, but shuttles to remote parking locations were still running at full capacity. He also said they couldn’t account for viewers at places like Tierney’s or Witherspoon Distillery, which are nearby but outside the event site.

Flames were visible in the courtyard of the MCL Grand where fireworks were shooting off. Kunke said this is usual for a firework display. (Photo by Leopold Knopp)

After the fireworks show had visibility issues last year, the city planned to hold what Kunke termed as an “intimate” display, with fireworks shooting off from the MCL Grand across the street from the plaza at a lower altitude than is usual. The display got a little too intimate when embers and debris showered viewers at the Church Street restaurants.

“You didn’t tell me it was going to be an interactive fireworks show,” resident Tommy Anundson laughed after he and many neighbors were hit with debris.

While he and others described the Cavali’s lawn as the best seat in the house, some viewers did end up needing medical attention. Kunke said one woman had a half-dollar burn on her shoulder from falling debris, and another had to have her eye flushed out with saline from dust.

Kunke said that weather conditions were ideal until just before the start of the launch. The bursts of wind across the plaza, which started around 9 p.m. after Eagles tribute band Desperado was finishing up, seem to have not been expected by meteorologists. National Weather Service forecasts noted winds coming from East Texas earlier in the evening, but said they would mostly dissipate before crossing I-45 and Highway 75, though microbursts could not be ruled out. Area airports measured strong bursts of wind in the evening — DFW Airport reported winds at 22 mph with a gust as high as 37. Fort Worth Alliance and Meacham airports reported their highest gusts of 39 and 44 mph, respectively.

Kunke said that fireworks can safely be launched in 15 mph winds with gusts of 25 mph or lower, but they were observing gusts of 35 mph, leading them to postpone the display in order for the winds to die down.

“Prior to launch, a meeting was held on site that included police, fire, emergency management, city management, event staff, and the fireworks vendor. After consulting with the National Weather Service, it was determined that the outburst was expected to pass Lewisville within about 10-15 minutes,” he said. “Had anyone in that discussion believed the show would be unsafe, then or later, the show would have been cancelled.”

City personnel reported debris falling along Church Street about halfway through the show, leading to the show’s pause.

Resident Tommy Anundson with souvenirs from the show. He says he and others watching by Cavali’s Pizza were singed by heat and debris from the show. (Photo by Leopold Knopp)

Kunke said the perimeter they had sectioned off for the fireworks was above the minimum standards for a show of this size, and while paper debris can reach the ground for low-level fireworks shows, the city was using clay-based shells that do not create paper debris. He said that without the wind gusts, they think nearly all of the debris would have landed in the designated area.

Kunke the city was pleased with the event overall.

“This event met or surpassed all our expectations, and the overwhelming majority of feedback received has been positive and even enthusiastic,” he said.

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